Embracing the 'darkness' and the joy of 'crunning': Inside the Aussie women's sevens rejuvenation

Aussie women's sevens coach reflects on Commonwealth gold (1:37)

Tim Walsh discusses how the Australian sevens team have 'embraced the darkness' with brutal workouts to find a winning edge. (1:37)

Five weeks after the Australian women's sevens side won their first Commonwealth Games gold medal, coach Tim Walsh is preparing the team to make even more history as they eye a Rugby World Cup Sevens win in Cape Town.

After clinching the World Series title for the first time since 2018, and downing Fiji in spectacular fashion to win gold in Birmingham, the Aussies will become the first team ever to hold all three titles in the same year if they emerge victorious in South Africa.

It's a stunning turnaround for a side that flopped at the Tokyo Olympics just over 12 months ago, when Australia were left heartbroken following a quarter-final loss to Fiji which denied them any chance of a medal -- let alone gold -- before they went on to finish the tournament in fifth place.

Back in charge of the women's program at the end of 2021 following a two-year stint with the men, Walsh returned to a team that was beginning to see the benefits of trusting their youth and implementing a strong leadership group. But there were still plenty of scars the team had to overcome on their journey to gold.

After opening their Commonwealth Games campaign with two strong performances, Australia again took on Fiji in their final pool game. But as it was in Tokyo, Australia again came up short of their Pacific neighbours.

Speaking on ESPN's Beyond the Lead podcast, Walsh said the emotional scars created 12 months bubbled back to the surface once more.

"There was a lot of post-traumatic stress I think from the Olympics and we're a very, very vulnerable team in terms of how we communicate," Walsh said. "There was that to deal with going into it and they certainly were affected by it as well, like we couldn't play much worse in that match.

"We had to face that [after the match] and then come up with a way for us to play without fear. We're a process driven, performance-based team and we have to enjoy that and embrace it and follow our process.

"It was a huge step for us as a team as well to have that adversity and then still turn around and go and win it.

"But that's the beauty of sports and the beauty of sevens. We could be sitting here, coming third, having lost to Fiji and then lost in New Zealand and it's a bit of a disaster for us, but they found a way to win.

"Who would have thought down a player, scrum against New Zealand and Faith Nathan makes that tackle and all of a sudden the game's over and we've won and now they're gold medalists, but it quite easily could have gone the other way. That's the difference, I think, between good and great teams. They find a way and I believe this team's just turned the corner to be able to play with consistency."

Brushing off their pool game loss, the Aussies would go on to play close to the perfect game to down New Zealand in the semi-final before brushing aside Fiji to claim their maiden Commonwealth Games gold medal.

But to reach the dizzying heights of 2022, the team had to experience the "darkness", as Walsh calls it. The term 'crunning' -- the act of crying while running -- was coined early in the season and featured regularly at training thereafter. At its core, "crunning" was all about the Aussie women allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

"It's very regular. It's because how hard we train them," Walsh explained.

"I've been coaching the women for 10 years and obviously had that stint with the men as well, but crying was always an emotional release, and I wouldn't say we embraced it, but it was a positive. It wasn't a 'don't cry', it was a great sort of vulnerability and if you need to cry then let it out.

"But you have to understand how hard these girls work. Sevens is a pretty brutal game with the contact side of things, but it's the actual fatigue and the repeat efforts. When you have to be the best, you basically have to push yourself to that level many times a week, which is probably most days.

"That's where the 'crunning' is and they certainly have embraced it. There was a point where they were fearing it, but now they're embracing it and they're wanting more, they can see where it's taking them and where it's taking our team as a winning team.

"I don't think it'll stop. It is a bit of an anecdote, but it really does exist and it's purely because of where we put them, and where they put themselves by embracing it. We call it the darkness, the darkest point is when the light comes, so that's what we want to be there and work hard and drag everybody else in there, and then we know that we're going to see the light in a big way...for example winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal."

With history on the line when the team heads to Cape Town, Walsh and his players are determined not to shy away from all that they can achieve over the three-day tournament. Instead they're determined to embrace the challenge and enter the World Cup without fear.

"You can't avoid it because it's always out there and you're defined by your results in sports," Walsh told ESPN. "We're actually embracing it, we break all our different tours and tournaments up into little campaigns, so this is no different and we're not afraid to address it and think 'yeah, we could go out there and win it'.

"That's obviously the objective, but the process to get to it is what we focus on. But we're not trying to bury our heads in the sand, we're thinking 'we can do this'. We'll be courageous and try and be that team that succeeds, we're going to embrace it and want it, so let's do it."